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EU Elections in Germany: which minor parties will make it?

Since 2014, electoral law in Germany has not had a legal threshold for Germany’s European Parliament elections. Contrary to the widespread belief in the Federal Republic, the lack of a legal electoral threshold does not mean that all minor parties automatically get a seat (MEP) in the EU Parliament. Instead, lists need to gather around 0.6% to be able to send one representative to Brussels. In 2014, the satire party Die PARTEI managed to do precisely this and entered the EU Parliament with 184,709 votes. Since the electoral system differs between different EU member states, national parties in other EU countries can enter the EU Parliament with a much lower vote share. The East Belgium centre-right CSP sent one MEP to Brussels with only 11,710 votes in 2014. From this perspective, the absence of a legal threshold within Germany seems legitimate.

While the big tent parties in Germany, the centre-right CDU/CSU (EPP) and centre-left SPD (S&D), have tried to force German minor parties out of the EU Parliament, a threshold has been declared unconstitutional by the German Federal Constitutional Court several times. At the same time, almost all German pollsters traditionally refuse to present vote shares of minor parties, saying that this would be statistically unreliable. Funnily enough, this “statistical problem” does not seem to exist outside of the country of wurst and lederhosen; most other European pollsters present the vote share for parties, which reach one, two, or three percent of the vote. So the German pollsters have left it up to this article to speculate about which minor party could make it to the European Parliament.

Who is in for sure? – Centrists and Satirists

The best chance among the small parties in Germany is FREIE WÄHLER (ALDE), which is traditionally stronger in rural parts of Southern Germany. It entered the European Parliament in 2014 with 1.5%. In the 2017 election for the national parliament Bundestag, the party reached a record high of 1.0%. In 2018, the regional elections in Bavaria (11.6%) and Hesse (3.0%) saw record highs for the centrist party, which sits with the liberal ALDE group in the EU Parliament. In April, an INSA poll for the EU election on the national level put Freie Wahler at 3% of the vote. This week’s Infratest dimap polling sees FREIE WÄHLER’s in their stronghold Bavaria, where they joined a government coalition as a junior partner in 2018, following receipt of a result slightly below their 2014 high. Based on these findings, it is reasonable to assume that FREIE
WÄHLER will receive one, two or even three MEPs.

The aforementioned “DIE PARTEI“ (NI) is a satire party. It is represented by MEP Martin Sonneborn in the Non-Inscrits group of the European Parliament since 2014 and has nominated Nico Semsrot, second on the electoral list for the EU election 2019, as transnational spitzenkandidat for the EU Commission Presidency. Given the size of the party, “DIE PARTEI” receives much attention in the public sphere – pre-eminently online. While the party only won 0.6% in 2014, this April’s INSA poll sees the party at 2%. Even more remarkably, this week’s Infratest dimap poll for Bavaria also sees the satirists at three percent, up from 0.5% in 2014. Three percent is a strong result in the rather conservative and rural South Eastern German region. Since 2014, DIE PARTEI has had rising vote shares in national and regional elections, which makes it reasonable to assume that the party may receive between one and three MEPs.

People’s Front of Judea and the Judean People’s Front: Four animal welfare parties

The animal welfare party “Die Tierschutzpartei” had a strong EU election result in 2014, sending their first representative to a parliament above the local administrative level.  However, just after MEP Stefan Bernhard Eck took his seat in the left-wing GUE/NGL group in the European Parliament, he declared that he would leave Die Tierschutzpartei – following factional infighting within the political wing of the German animal welfare movement. Despite struggling with several split-offs, Die Tierschutzpartei has received record highs in regional and national elections since their 2014 success. April’s INSA poll for the European election even sees the party at 2%. This election result would mean 2 MEPs for Tierschutzpartei.

While these indicators predict a strong result for Die Tierschutzpartei, the word “Tier” (German for “animal”) appears five times on Germany’s ballot paper for the EU election. Three other animal welfare parties besides Die Tierschutzpartei are competing for seats in Brussels; moreover, Die PARTEI included the word “animal” in their name. The tradition of factionalism in Germany’s animal welfare movement may result in a situation where all four animal welfare parties fall just below the natural threshold. Realistically, Die Tierschutzpartei, as the most prominent and established animal welfare party, will manage to surpass the threshold but the result may be lower than what INSA predicted in April 2019.

On a knife edge: Pirates and Bavarian Bee-Warriors

The Pirate Party “Pirati” may become the largest political party in these elections on the national level – in Czechia. Their German counterpart is still recovering from a phase of infighting after their initial electoral successes in the early 2010s.  While the party saw a minor upward trend in 2014, the party’s most popular representative and only MEP Julia Reda (G/EFA) left the party at the beginning of this year. She recommended not to vote for the party due to sexual harassment allegations against the number two on the electoral list. So, despite the promising 1% predicted by April’s INSA poll, it is unclear whether the German Pirates will enter the EU Parliament again.

The INSA poll from April mentioned above does not present values for the Green party ÖDP, which sits with the Greens/EFA group and has its main voter base in the region of Bavaria. After the party entered the EU Parliament in 2014 with just 0.6%, its election results on the regional and national level did not take off as the larger German Greens have. In fact, it was quite the contrary. In the Bavarian regional election last autumn, the party lost a quarter of their vote. This week’s Infratest dimap poll, however, gave the party 4 percent in its stronghold Bavaria for the EU election, up from 2.7% in 2014. This success is attributed to the fact that the party recently managed to conduct the most successful petition in Bavaria’s history which was adopted by the Bavarian parliament. The petition dealt with the protection of habitats for bees in the face of a wipeout of insect species across Europe.

Nazi Parties: The end of one-man blitzkrieg in Brussels

The right-wing AfD (EFDD/EAPN) attracts voters on the far-right, which has the (almost unnoticed) side effect that right-wing extremist parties like the Hitler-admiration party NPD (NI) and their skinhead counterparts “DIE RECHTE” and “III. Weg” are struggling to repeat electoral successes of the German far-right in the 1990s and the 2000s. Almost unnoticed, the prominent right-wing party Die Republikaner, which entered the EU-Parliament in the 1990s with more than 7%, even failed to collect the 4,000 signatures to register for this year’s European election.

While the NPD has been represented by one MEP in Brussels in the past five years, the move of AfD to the right, and far-right electoral decline since 2014 make it unlikely that NPD – or any other German right-wing extremist party – will enjoy reading the election results in late May. Right-wing populist “Volksabstimmung” received 0.3% of the vote in 2014 and will likely also not make it to the European Parliament.

Wildcards in this election: Family, Feminists, Federalists

The conservative Familien-Partei Deutschlands (“Family Party Germany”) achieved 0.7% in the European Parliament election in 2014 but suffered the same fate as their animalist counterparts. MEP Arne Gericke (ECR) left the party in 2017 in the face of declining election results on the regional level. Shortly after, the party failed to participate in the election to the national parliament. While it is not unreasonable to assume that the family party will make it again to the EU Parliament, the chances for this to happen have rather declined since 2014.

Volt Europa and Yanis Varoufakis’s ”Demokratie in Europa” are both Eurofederalist parties. While Volt Europa focuses mostly on turning the European Union into a federalist state uniting liberal-conservative, liberal, socialist, and green ideas, Varoufakis outlines a United States of Europe as a fortress against neoliberal capitalism. Just like in the case of the animalists, the Eurofederalists may not get a seat in the European Parliament due to their split vote between the two parties. Varoufakis’s prominence and Volt’s active and young membership, which has raised some attention in the German media, may still lift one or both parties across the informal threshold.

Besides the two Eurofederalist parties, the feminist party DIE FRAUEN is another wild card in this European election. While the party did not contest in the 2014 election, it came pretty close to the magical natural threshold of around 0.6% in 1999, 2004, and – to a lesser extent – 2009 European election. In 2014, the partner party of DIE FRAUEN in Sweden, Feminist Initiative, managed to enter the EU Parliament, joining the Socialists and Democrats group.  

With God’s help to Brussels – the case of the Christian fundamentalists

PBC, AUF, and CM were Christian fundamentalist parties, which ran in the 2014 European election. While insignificant individually, they received a combined vote share of 0.5%, just under the natural threshold of around 0.6%. In this election, only one Christian fundamentalist party runs: PBC and AUF united to Bundnis C (ECR). Currently, Bundnis C (ECR) is represented by MEP Arne Gericke in the EU Parliament. It cannot be ruled out that (so Gott will) German Christian fundamentalists could re-enter the EU Parliament this time.

Communists, Marxists, Leninists: an EU Parliament without the German Far-Left?

The far-left has a long tradition of sectarianism. This diversity of far-left views brings the joy for German Communists to have the choice between the Communist DKP, the Marxist-Leninist MLPD, and the Trotzkyite SGP – of which none will make it to the EU Parliament.

… and other outsiders

There are no indications that the national-conservative AfD-split-off around AfD founder and MEP Bernd Lucke will make it back to the EU Parliament. Moreover, pro-basic income BGE, ethnic minority interest BIG, pro-direct democracy “Die Direkte!”, centre-left ”Die Grauen”, populist ”Liebe”, pro-spirituality “Die Violetten” and “Menschliche Welt”, liberal “Neue Liberale”, left-wing “ÖkoLinX”, liberal “Die Humanisten”, as well as the two the senior interest parties ”Graue Panther” and “Gesundheitsforschung” do not have a substantial electoral record or significant media attention. Most likely, they will need to try again in 2024 to make it to the European Parliament.

The latter is what – on a final note – the mainstream media also reported about Die PARTEI ahead of the European election 2014 (Europe Elects was the only one – we are aware of – to predict the correct result of 1 MEP). With another two weeks to go in this European election campaign, minor parties in Germany can still make it or break it.

Tobias is the founder, director and CEO of Europe Elects. He leads us fearlessly into battle against the forces of fake news and bad polling.